An empty street, the sound of sirens echoing distantly in the darkness. Eyes wide, peering through the blackness that greeted him upon leaving his part-time job in the bar; the decision to choose the late shift didn’t seem so smart now, regardless of the money it brought him to pay for his fees.
Bar work in itself wasn’t too bad. Some students had it worse – rumours of those doing Medicine working as strippers, prostitutes even, were all too commonplace. Serving aggressive patrons behind the safety of a counter didn’t seem so terrible in comparison.
His footsteps continued, faster, faster down the lane, and the thought was abandoned. Jet buildings closed in, cutting off his path, forcing him to turn, catching his bag as its inertia forced it to swing out into the deserted street.
If only life were as simple as physics. Perform a few calculations, and presto! Answer achieved. Real life, not so simple. There were too many variables; no escape from the unknown foes that waited to attack… Just around the corner… An owl shrieked freedom to its prey, a drunk man bawled to the sky, a possum coughed its fall from the rusty gutters.
Left – or was it right? – the streets ran together and every so often he’d trip on a crack in the footpath, arms slightly outstretched, hands splayed for a fall that didn’t come. Thank God. Yellow streetlights ringing the road were foxes, out of place yet belonging in this dark world, glaring with baleful eyes – why are you still here? He didn’t know.
Walking with the ever-present soundtrack of his heart beating in his ears like some war-drum, his pace quickened to match the tempo.
What was it? Head flicked left, right, surveying the street. Empty. Keep walking.
In the corner of his eyes, a shadow leapt into an alleyway, mutated with an arched back and skinny-long legs. He glanced at his watch: luminous green numbers read ‘2330’.
Why didn’t he take a bus? Simple: he couldn’t. He could only walk home. He’d left his go-card back in the flat with his wallet, an attempt to force himself to do exercise.
A vow was made on the spot: If he ever got out of this alive, he’d never walk home again. Damn those who condemned him.
His body was starting to sweat. Not from strenuous activity, though. It wasn’t a hot night, and goose-bumps were covering his skin. He was sweating from the prickling sensation, at the back of his neck, millions of tiny insects were crawling up and down, flying around the inside of his shirt with their tiny legs and wings.
He shuddered and took a breath.
There was nothing there. It was just his imagination. Then why did he feel so sick? And what was that infernal noise, claws scraping on a chalkboard?
A few metres ahead, a light flickered. Without that one light, the street seemed so much darker and emptier. His gut clenched. Another sound, this time a screeching noise, something dying. As he walked, the sound wailed on and on, filling his head. For some reason, he couldn’t shake the thought that it was following him, waiting to pounce.
He glanced behind him, just in time to see the shadow leap out.
No time to think. Run!
Through the streets, shoes slapping against pavement, a staccato rhythm in accompaniment to his pounding heart. Breath coming in ragged pants, straining to provide the muscles with oxygen to keep going. Lungs are leaden weights on top of legs of rubber that just… won’t…… move!
Fingers have lost all feeling, all blood transferred to legs and lungs. Fists clench. Blurs of shadow fly past, dancing wildly around him with grasping hands.
Mouth is open, gasping for air, which cuts at throat with a million knives of ice. Skin, cold and clammy, wraps tight around burning muscles screaming in pain.
Finally, the apartment appears, a warm welcoming face. The lights are on. Sanctuary.
What was that?
A yowl squeezes between sheets of metal, scratching from behind.
Shit! A shadow jumps out. Has the monster caught him?
The cat licks its gleaming black fur in smug satisfaction and stalks off.